“Oh, it's delightful to have ambitions ...And there never seems to be any end to them—that's the best of it.’’—Anne Shirley in Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables.
In her comfortable Charlottetown home, Eileen McMillan looks back and recalls the childhood of her precocious, somewhat sickly, set of twins, Tom and Charles. “I would have sold them for 25 cents at times when they were bad little boys,” she says. Three decades later federal Environment Minister Tom McMillan, 40, and his brother Charles, senior policy adviser to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, have become men of influence. In Ottawa, where access is power, the McMillans are the best-placed political siblings since the early 1980s, when Tom Axworthy served as former Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s principal secretary while his brother, Lloyd, was transport minister and a key architect of policy.
As a prime ministerial gatekeeper, Charles—or so Tom insists—gives no special favors. But Tom McMillan, in his characteristically formal style, concedes: “Charley is close to the Prime Minister. He knows my province intimately and he shares in many respects my perspective and vision for the Island.” As to whether the frontroom or the backroom twin wields the most power, both brothers tread carefully. Says Tom: “It’s clear that I have more power in that I’m the one who has elected office.” But, he concedes, “ a lot of influence can be more impor-
tant than a little bit of power.” Even less comfortable with the question, Charles concludes that his brotherborn only minutes after him—carries more weight. “I am very skeptical in one sense of advisers playing a more central role than ministers,” says Charles.
The influence of the McMillan brothers is a boon for Prince Edward Island, which is staggering under a 14-percent unemployment rate. Chronically dependent on federal programs as
much as potatoes, fish and ferryloads of tourists, the Island’s 126,000 residents can only benefit from having two local men so close to the heart of government. In fact, before the provincial election on April 21, the Conservative party attempted to capitalize on the Ottawa connection by circulating a three-page list of federal programs designed to benefit Islanders. Despite the handouts, the provincial Liberals un-
der Joe Ghiz swept the Tories from power.
Despite that setback, the McMillan clan often resembles a family out of Lucy Maud Montgomery: six bright children of a beloved Island doctor and his intelligent, strong-willed wife rise to prominence in medicine, law, scholarship and politics. It is almost as if the four boys and two girls absorbed the fictional Anne Shirley’s wide-eyed belief in the joy of academic achievement and big ambitions. Says Ottawa CBC TV reporter Mike Duffy, a childhood friend of the McMillans: “They led a very special kind of life.”
The family roots on Prince Edward Island stretch back on one side to the 1770s, when Capt. Alexander McMillan, a Scottish Catholic, settled a land grant given by the British Crown for services rendered during the American War of Independence; and to 1802 when the Irish Catholic McQuaids arrived on the Island. In 1941, when Dr. Joseph A. McMillan married Eileen McQuaid, a slim, attractive banker’s daughter, the locals described it as an ideal union of two of the oldest Catholic families on the Island. Dr. Joe, as he was known, was a restless intellectual—he earned degrees from four universities—who completed studies for the priesthood before shifting to science, then medicine. A chain-smoker who wore blue pinstriped suits and silver-framed glasses, he reminded some Islanders of Joseph P. Kennedy, patriarch of an American political dynasty. He formed one of the Island’s first medical clinics, was an influential figure in the Canadian Medical Association and campaigned tirelessly for the Conservatives. Until his death in 1972, he was known for his unswerving belief in his church, his party and the value of education.
After the Second World War he moved his growing family to a sprawling seven-bedroom brick home in the prosperous Brighton area of Charlottetown. Tom and Charles remember a storybook upbringing: a home overflowing with friends, filled with books and out-of-province newspapers, enriched with sports—and obsessed with politics. “The yard was always full of kids,” their mother, Eileen, recalls. “Our six and others gathered there in quantities to play hockey or skate. Christmas Eve is a memory we all have—Joe out in the yard at one o’clock flooding the rink, hoping for colder weather, watching from the windows for the ice to get strong enough to skate.”
For the McMillans, politics was inseparable from religion. And religion, in turn, was inextricably bound to education. In postwar Prince Edward Island, where schools, health care, even political beliefs were divided into Protestant and Catholic camps, academic achievement was the entrée into the predominantly Protestant Island establishment. But few were as academically ambitious as Dr. Joe’s offspring. Charles, once described as Mulroney’s “intellectual bodyguard,” says that the six children have attended 12 different universities. “The McMillan family is killing itself with degrees,” laughs 33-year-old John. Married, with one daughter, John is a Charlottetown lawyer who has earned degrees in law, education and business and makes no effort to hide his own desire to enter politics one day.
The oldest McMillan, 43-year-old Colin, a Rhodes Scholar, is a specialist in internal medicine and cardiology and head of the department of medicine at Charlottetown’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital. He is married to Sandra, and the couple has four children, including a set of twins. Like Dr. Joe, he is a prominent community leader and, as chairman of the Economic Council, plays an active role in the politics of the Canadian Medical Association. The oldest daughter, Eileen, 41, holds a bachelor of science in nursing and is director of nursing curriculum at Sir Sandford Fleming College
in Peterborough, Ont. She is married to George Fulford, also a teacher there. Maura, 32, married to George Davies, a doctor, is the mother of two young sons, claims degrees in science and dietetics and is currently completing a postgraduate degree in nutritional nursing at Victoria General Hospital in Halifax. Says Tom: “We were raised to value education and accomplishment and hard work. It’s part of our makeup.”
Charles, bespectacled, with thinning hair, has the rumpled, slightly distracted air of the academic he once was. A former professor of business policy and international business at Toronto’s York University, he met Mulroney at a party policy conference in 1969, worked for him during his abortive first run for the party leadership in 1976 and played a key role as strategist during the Prime Minister’s leadership and election victories in 1983 and 1984.
His fraternal twin, Tom, is a designer-made politician: neat black
hair salted a premature grey, customfitted jackets and slacks and tailormade turns of phrase. In 1969, just as he was finishing graduate studies in political science at Queen’s University
in Kingston, Ont., he parlayed his solid Maritime Tory credentials into a junior position on the policy team of Conservative leader Robert Stanfield. His wife, Katherine, whom he married in 1980, is expecting their second child. In 1979 when veteran MP Heath Macquarrie announced his plans to resign after more than 20 years as MP for Hillsborough, P.E.I., he annointed Tom as his successor. “He was an obvious choice from the very beginning,” says Macquarrie, now a senator. “Tom was the more public of the two twins, the more readily popular.” Adds brother Colin: “Charley was a brilliant natural student, a true academic. Tom always wanted to be a politician.” There was never any doubt which party Tom would join. “My family,” he says, “has been Conservative for 200 years.” Indeed, Island politics have always been governed by tradition rather than ideology—and Charles is no exception. He once said of Mulroney, “He’s about as ideological as that coffee pot” —and that applies equally to Charles. McMillan’s detractors have described him as a scattered and unfocused individual who misses appointments while he tries to translate complex theories into reality. He has not always been successful. Six years ago he convinced the federal and P.E.I. governments to invest almost $1 million in an extraction plant to produce an emulsifier from seaweed that would be used to give a creamy consistency to puddings, cosmetics and other products. Plagued by problems with the Japanese equipment, the company did not produce any products for sale, and the plant near Tignish, on the Island’s northern shore, stands idle.
But McMillan’s influence was obvious on the Prime Minister’s tour last month of Japan, China and Korea. His respect for the graceful culture and industrial efficiency of Japan was awakened in 1967 when he strolled through the Japanese pavilion at Expo 67 as a university student. His doctorate from Bradford University, England, his research and a 1984 book, The Japanese Industrial System, have explored his belief in the trade potential with Pacific Rim nations, themes that Mulroney used generously in his own speeches.
Nor is his interest in Japan just academic. He met his Japanese-born wife, Kazuyo, in Charlottetown in 1972 as she toured the haunts of Anne of Green Gables, a childhood hero of many Japanese. McMillan struck up a conversation in halting Japanese, acquired over several visits to the country. “She never got over the shock,” he says.
While Charles divides most of his time between Ottawa and Toronto, where he still maintains his home, Tom, as an MP, is the more visible presence on the Island. His wife, Katherine, owns a fashionable Charlottetown clothing boutique. Tom works out regularly at Charlottetown’s West Coast gym and can be seen jogging along the red clay outside his Keppoch Beach home, a former 20-room hotel he renovated with Charles’s help in the 1970s.
Where Charles is preoccupied with forging trade links between Canada and Japan, Tom is an ardent supporter of building a causeway between Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. He also lobbied hard, both on the Island and in cabinet, in favor of a proposal that Litton Systems Canada Ltd. establish a defence plant near Charlottetown. The new provincial government has yet to approve the controversial project, which pitted job-hungry Islanders against a vocal antimilitary lobby. In his environment post, McMillan has drawn mixed reviews. He appears well-briefed on key issues and has been accessible to environmental lobbies across the country. But he has been unable to prevent the loss of 600 jobs in his department. Says Liberal environment critic Charles Caccia: “He’s good in public relations. But when you look for the substance, it’s elusive.”
For the moment at least, the ambitions of Dr. Joe’s twins have taken them down different paths to the same destination. While Tom clearly enjoys the pressures and the profile of politics, associates of Charles expect him to leave the Prime Minister’s Office and return to academic life, possibly before the next election. Says Charles: “There should be rotation in these kinds of jobs.” Still, the family is determined to make even more use of its influence in Ottawa. As Tom told the Charlottetown Rotary Club earlier this year, “Never before has it been more important that we have clout in the corridors of power.”
in Ottawa, with BARBARA MACANDREW in Charlottetown
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